Attract and keep the best employees

  • 4 min read

Good employees are hard to find and keeping them can be a tough task for many agriculture employers.

A typical retention strategy might include a series of perks and benefits – everything from profit-sharing to bonuses to vacation and housing incentives – but that’s often not enough to keep top talent, says Winnipeg-based HR consultant Michelle Painchaud, president of Painchaud Performance Group.

“Believe it or not, those items you listed are recruiting incentives and not necessarily for retention,” Painchaud says. Pay and incentives are important, “but employees continue to tell us that they want a great place to work where the culture is positive, leadership is strong, and communication is open and consistent.”

People don’t want to leave a workplace in which they feel successful, valued and appreciated.

For Painchaud, workplace culture is key to employee retention; it’s the DNA of an organization. It drives employee attitudes and behaviours. “A strong culture can really enhance overall employee performance and retention. People don’t want to leave a workplace in which they feel successful, valued and appreciated,” she says.

Putting people first

Across the agricultural landscape, employers are challenged to hang on to employees, especially top performers. That’s certainly the case for Truly Green Farms, an innovative 70-acre tomato greenhouse operation in Chatham, Ont., that employs 215 people at peak season.

Joe Barkhouse, Truly Green’s human performance developer, explains how two years ago the company decided to face the employee-retention challenge head-on. With fast growth and rapid turnover, due in part to exploding labour demand from the burgeoning cannabis industry, Truly Green decided they had to take a people-first approach.

Barkhouse understands that competitive financial rewards is a must, but like Painchaud, feels employees are looking for more. This includes a happy workplace, where both employer and employees stay connected and each benefit from the culture.

The role of leaders

Peter Mayne, director of culture, learning and employee experience at Farm Credit Canada, defines a work culture as a “set of deeply held assumptions, beliefs and values that really define who we are, how we work together, how we do things and how we treat people.”

He believes employers who have a compelling set of values, including honesty, integrity and trust, have an advantage when it comes to retaining talent. He acknowledges the money is important – job seekers are also price shoppers, and salary is an acknowledgement of performance and value, but it can’t buy you long-term loyalty.

From Mayne’s perspective, the success of an organization’s culture rests heavily on its leaders. Culture and values must be more than a plaque on a wall, he says. Whether it’s honesty, integrity or trust, leaders must define these for employees, live them and show what they look like every day.

Family values

Truly Green’s roots are in family farming and the company is committed to creating a family atmosphere while maintaining a dynamic business structure that builds employee unity. 

“We’ve realized we’re in the business of growing people, and tomatoes are a side product,” Barkhouse says. “If we aren’t going to grow the people, we aren’t going to get tomatoes.” He admits it took some time to understand the importance of human resource management. “A positive, productive culture really does deliver a tremendous payback.”

Respecting relationship

A number of programs at Truly Green enhance culture and promote their core values. “A Day in the Life” lets managers spend time in other departments to better understand and respect different areas of the greenhouse. It also promotes transparency and a shared vision for the entire company, Barkhouse notes.

“It’s important to be open and honest and that’s much more than an annual review,” he says. “Feedback and direction are a part of our daily process. If there’s a problem we work through it.”

Truly Green strives to ensure employees understand they are key to its success. That’s where “Knock it out of the Park” comes in. It’s a baseball-themed employee program that follows the Toronto Blue Jays throughout their season and offers barbecues and ballpark hot dogs. “It’s really about aligning all employees and to think like one farm family team with the same goals – to win and succeed,” Barkhouse explains. 

“Our goal is not to be the most profitable organization, our goal is to treat our employees the best,” Barkhouse says. He believes workplace satisfaction accounts for 70 per cent of an overall retention plan. “Managers and employees [are taking] ownership and really want to produce the best products and want the best for the company,” he adds. “That will help us retain good employees.” 

From an AgriSuccess article by Bernard Tobin.


Where can you find good help these days? Check out these seven resources that focus on recruitment and employment in the agriculture and agri-food sectors.

Producers know hiring the right people for the job is essential to their business success. However, given the labour market shortages for farm-related jobs, it can be challenging to find those people.